Television rarely reaches greatness. To be fair, films, plays, and books mostly prove unmemorable. But great authors—take Dickens—will be enjoyed as long as people read; great plays from Aeschylus to Beckett speak for themselves; film festivals guarantee interest in great cinema. Television? The finest television I’ve ever seen—Brideshead Revisited and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy—remains, even with awards and critical acclaim, generally forgotten.
Canceled by Netflix after one season, The Good Cop will be forgotten also. That’s too bad. For one thing, the show, created by Andy Breckman, featuring Tony Danza and Josh Groban, is pleasant, amusing, and fairly witty. Danza and Groban play father and son cops Tony Caruso Sr. and Jr., obviously Italian and Roman Catholic (with no Mrs. Caruso, the victim of hit-and-run). Sr. has a checkered past: a good cop except for a little corruption, followed by a stretch in prison and parole. His faith is somewhat compromised too.
In episode two, he visits his priest for a long-overdue confession with a ludicrous ulterior motive: to seek an imprimatur (quickly denied) to pursue a super-model with carnal intent. Jr. is the really good cop—and not quite too good to be true. Patently, he’s a grown-up Boy Scout, a cop who does everything by the book, including the Good Book. Believe what you will, such men exist. And inferior as the show may be to The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and Peaky Blinders, the change is appreciated.
That said, Jr. is often ridiculously good, which, since the show advertises itself as comedy, is not a bad strategy. As episode one opens, Jr. is firing away at the police shooting range as part of police re-certification. Not surprisingly, he’s a crack shot, pumping out a series of bull’s-eyes. Cut to the two Tonies together in the front seat of Jr.’s car, with Jr. at the wheel. They sit forever at a traffic light. Broken, Sr. says, run it; you’re a cop. That’s why, Jr. replies, he won’t run it. They wait and wait.
The Good Cop is loaded with similar gags, blended fairly seamlessly with the more serious side of the show, the murders to be solved. In the inaugural episode, some skate-boarders discover an ex-cop’s body—and not just any ex-cop. It turns out Sr. and others threatened the deceased at their hearing on charges of corruption, and to complicate matters, Jr. heads up the investigation, combing the scene for every clue: the victim moved; 9mm slugs; drugged before killed. As he leaves the crime scene, Jr. sternly warns fellow officer Burl Loomis (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) not to touch a certain bush. Evidence? No, poison sumac. The Boy Scout lives on. It’s a nice touch.
Such moments make The Good Cop enjoyable. However, the scenes at headquarters don’t work especially well for me. Burl is present, along with Ryan (Bill Kottkamp), a long-haired, bespectacled desk-nerd. The writers may have intended a nod to Barney Miller in the zany exchanges, but the timing seems off, and, worse, Ryan isn’t that funny.
On the feminine side, Cora Vasquez (Monica Barbaro) is Sr.’s parole officer and a detective by episode two. She’s smart, witty, competent, and beautiful. Too gorgeous for Jr.? Maybe not, but she keeps him at a distance, and, good cop that he is, he treats her with respect even as he dodges the barbs she shoots at him.
The plot turns grim when ballistics finds the bullets taken from the body are from Jr.’s Glock. Although few buy his guilt, he’s suspended, but on a short leash, he works to clear himself. The wounds on the body are strangely similar to the pattern of earlier his range target.
Was the dead man drugged and conveniently lashed to the back of the target stand just before Tony arrived to shoot? To corroborate the theory, Cora and Tony check the test target and go to the shooting range for the exciting conclusion. Cut to Jr. explaining to Sr. what happened at the same broken traffic light from the show’s start, speaking the same lines at a dead stop.
Were subsequent episodes as good as the first? Maybe not. Once viewers know the Boy Scout and his comical but morally compromised ex-cop dad, some of the luster is off. But the gags in The Good Cop still work, and the crimes believable. Anyhow, familiarity more often than not fuels comedy.
Jack Benny’s one great movie, To Be Or Not To Be, succeeded because Ernst Lubitsch wisely let Jack Benny be himself. I suspect viewers would have been happy to let Tony Jr. stay lovable and good. Again, not great, but delightful enough and worthy of the second season it probably will never see.
Watch it on Netflix while you can.